Upon entering the African Art Gallery 350, you can see that it is a medium sized exhibit that allows for an opportunity to walk around. The lighting in the Gallery is dim, but most of the light is concentrated on the works of art. The gallery is formally arranged, with free standing sculptures that are grouped together and are organized by African tribes. Tribal masks are displayed in elevated, glass casings from the Sudan region. For example, the Bobo people created Helmet Mask in the 19th-20th century.
This mask is life-size with human features. It is made out of wood, animal hair, resin, and pigment. These masks as well as other works of art represent casings for funerals, festivals and initiations. In addition to their purpose, these masks also symbolize the meetings of nature spirits with human beings.
The African people believed tremendously in spiritual practices and asked for guidance. One work of art that represents that concept is Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka that is a freestanding, carved, assembled sculpture.
The sculpture stands at 4′ tall, is covered in nails sparsely around the chest area and gets denser when it reaches its feet. The idol is an exaggeration of human aspects and its purpose was to symbolize power. It represented presiding authority of the lord or king to enforce rules among tribe members.
As part of this exhibit, another interesting sculpture includes the Bamana Figures that was created in Mali in the 15-early 20″ century and it is freestanding, carved, and wooden. This sculpture is very unique because it includes art pieces of male and female pairs.
It is interesting to see that the females are bigger than the males. This relationship can be seen in the sculpture piece of Mother and Child, where the female is holding a child and the male is seen as being smaller than the female. The last sculpture of Seated Male with Lance is small compared to the others and it represents the vital role that women played in African society because of the nurture that they provided for their children who were the next generation.
Gallery 351 was very unique because it focused on the artwork specifically from Ethiopia. It is a small, narrow exhibit with minimal electric lighting but most of it complements the art that is seen on the wall and in elevated glass cases. The art is arranged chronologically according to the time period from the 14th century to late 19th century. The art is religious because it ranges from crosses to scriptures. An example of this is the Processional Crosses; the crosses in the display are bronze, carved crosses that originated in Highland Ethiopia in the 13th-14th century. The main purpose of these crosses was to worship in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and they were worn after baptisms as markers of faith.
Gallery 352 of the African Art Galleries is larger than the previous ones because it is a home to multiple works of art from different regions of Africa and it does not have a lot of open space. The electrical lighting of the gallery is medium bright, and most of the lighting is in the casings. One of the art works that seemed interesting was from Ghana and their obsession with precious metal art. Gold had an important influence on Ghana’s history and art. This exhibit was in an elevated glass casing and it was organized separately with silver and gold works of art. The carving of the Linguist Staff (Oykeame) was made in 19h-20h century in Ghana by the Asante. It is a full height staff that was used to represent knowledge because the Akan people did not use the written communication.
The different galleries in the African Gallery are meant to inform audiences about a diversity of art work that ranges from their notion of gold to religion. By the end of the exhibit the visitor should be informed about the meaning of African art and its representation. The only aspect that should be changed is for art pieces to include background information.